The race for the presidential nomination in both parties is entering uncharted territory, and the experts are starting to admit that recent experience might not be a reliable guide. It’s no longer inconceivable that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee. And the same with Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side.
The phrase “Teflon candidate” never made much sense until Trump came along. Nothing seems to touch him, including utter loutishness when it comes to taking about women or utter nonsense when it comes to proposals such as mass deportation. He brags about being the opposite of a gentleman; he’s loud and proud about his lack of shame, generosity, and humility. We democrats can’t help but admire Trump for his highly successful and sometimes even joyful dissing of all the puritanical conventions of political correctness that constrain the freedom of all the other candidates. They have to appear to be virtuous; Trump doesn’t.
Well, Trump does claim to have something like the virtue of magnanimity; he’s offering his greatness as what’s most needed to save his country. It’s more precise to say that he’s detached magnanimity from virtue in a way that has allowed him never to experience the need to ask God for forgiveness for his (obviously) many transgressions. What we need is a ruthless and conniving SOB who can negotiate our enemies into submission. What a decadent country needs is something like a decadent emperor—or entrepreneur-turned-emperor—to set things straight.
Dumbfounding the Political ‘Experts’
Republican critics keep—rather hysterically—criticizing Trump for this or that outrage. How can a man of the party of Lincoln, shouts George Will, support mass deportation? And, Charles Krauthammer adds, the policy of deportation guarantees Republican defeat, as of course it would. The critics kept observing that Trump’s campaign had peaked, because his craziness had finally become self-destructive, although they’ve stopped that for now.
The new cry is that his “high negatives” guarantee Trump will be defeated by whatever Republican is left standing against him in the final showdown. That still makes a lot of sense, although I wouldn’t bet the farm on John Kasich or even Ted Cruz taking Trump down one on one. Kasich will increasingly repulse Republicans who want a dramatic alternative to Democratic indecisiveness and incompetence. It’s easy to say the Cruz would lose too, so what the bleep, let’s go down flags flying and guns blazing with Donald. At this point, it seems that Republican experts are flailing in impotence more than anything else; nothing they’re saying seems to be working.
One popular tactic of the Republican critics, of course, is to notice that Trump and Sanders really believe in the same things. This should scare us all, if you think about it, because, together, they seem to command the support of a majority of Americans. The almost-clever brand being pinned on Bernie is “national socialist.” That’s because he’s a nationalist and a socialist, whereas socialists should be, it seems, internationalists or about uniting the workers of the world. Bernie said open borders are a Koch brothers idea, but the truth is that the world is divided into nation-states, and each nation has a duty to protect its own citizens against losing their jobs and from the effects of unmediated global capitalism.
The Kind of Candidates Worried People Tout
Now, said “protectionism” may well be reactionary and is generally counterproductive overall, but there’s no denying it resonates in a country where the wages and working conditions of the average guy aren’t getting better, a country in which, as the excellent libertarian futurist Tyler Cowen says, “average is over” and, as Charles Murray adds, the middle class is “coming apart” in the direction of a “cognitive elite” on the hand and people who, for a variety of reasons, don’t have the wherewithal to live a dignified relational life on the other. Joel Kotkin exaggerates when he writes of “the proletarianization of the middle class,” but the reason we call exaggerations exaggerations is that they contain considerable truth.
Actually, Sanders is not that popular among Democrats. Nor is he in personality, habits, or background much like Trump. But he is doing better than anyone guessed, and not just because Hillary Clinton is tanking. How could he be nominated? This email scandal thing is approaching the point where she seems more indictable than presidential. Not only that, it might well be the case that the president and his team are not only secretly cheering but abetting her demise. I could go on, but the median expert today who concludes Clinton will go the distance does so mainly because it’s too late for Democrats to get someone else. But they do have someone else—Bernie Sanders.
Surely if Clinton has to withdraw the Democrats will have new candidates. But who? If Joe Biden were widely regarded as of the presidential “pay grade,” he’d already be in the race with lots of supporters. It’s an inconvenient truth that nobody much wants Al Gore back. Etc. Sure, they’ll be candidates, but they’ll be later-comers (who never succeed of late), and the Democrat bench, as they say, is mighty weak. And Sanders will have the momentum. Also remember that he’s a kind-of-charming guy who seems as unthreatening as his look-alike, Larry David. Most Democrats aren’t socialists—most of the leading brains and big givers not even close—but give me the right odds and I wouldn’t mind betting on Bernie.
What Trump and Sanders Have in Common
So my takeaway is that both Democrats and Republicans really have to think about the appeal Trump and Sanders have in common. They’re both inspiring Americans who want to rebel against the “libertarian convergence” of our two parties. And they’re for decisive American leadership that gets good deals across the board for the American people. After that, they differ, often wildly, depending on where Trump’s thinking has evolved today.
Take the example of immigration. I don’t agree with Trump or many Republicans. I’m not much for sending anyone back, and I think a passage to citizenship should be open for almost everyone now here. The category “citizen” is American, and part of America’s enduring greatness is turning the homeless into citizens. The category “guest worker” is not for us. But I’m also for controlling entry and knowing who’s here, while supporting a very generous policy of letting people in.
The perception, which is not without merit, is that our immigration policy is too much about flooding our country with workers to keep wages low, and that libertarian or, maybe better, oligarchic goals of open borders and maximum possible mobility slight the privileges and responsibilities of citizens.
Those privileges and responsibilities used to guide our national policy of assimilation or “making men and women citizens” while allowing them to keep their culture, including, of course, their religious institutions and “family values.” For too many Republicans and Democrats now, the categories that, together, express the whole truth about who we are—such as citizen, parent, spouse, and creature—need to have no influence on our public policy. We Americans have never wanted to lose our freedom-loving political identity in “socialist internationalism,” and the same should be true when it comes to the rootless cosmopolitanism of the twenty-first-century global competitive marketplace.
The Country Needs More than Economic Renewal
So we need to get over the increasingly fashionable view that citizenship (or parenthood or marriage or church membership) is just a form of “rent seeking” by a vested interest. Just as there are crony capitalists, there are crony Americanists, so the thinking goes.
It’s ironic that the slacker-tyrant Trump has become as spokesperson for this democratic civic concern. Of course, he and Bernie should go nowhere near the Oval Office. And one point of this article is to make sure that they don’t.
Let me conclude by saying that I don’t mean to disparage most “libertarian” or market-based reforms, and I certainly think that Sanders’ redistributive schemes would, at best, make thing worse. But I have a lot of sympathy for reform conservatives such as Yuval Levin, who are all about, I think, shaping libertarian means for non-libertarian ends. It would be best for the genuine moral and religious diversity that characterizes our churches and schools if they were detached as much from government dependence as possible.
But it’s also true we can’t say that if we deregulate as much as possible and cut taxes on job creators to the bone everything else will take care of itself. We really do have think about the plight of struggling families, about protecting our churches as organized bodies of thought and action, just as we have to think about the indispensable “republican virtue” of those willing to serve and risk everything for our country.